Le­ices­ter’s Thai owner faces £327m cor­rup­tion charge

King Power ac­cused of un­der­pay­ing gov­ern­ment Charge re­lates to duty-free sales at Bangkok air­port

The Guardian - Sport - - Football - David Conn and Phakarat Ryn Jirenuwat Bangkok

The com­pany which owns Le­ices­ter City and funded their rise to be­come Premier League cham­pi­ons is to face mul­ti­mil­lion­pound cor­rup­tion charges in Thai­land. A judge at the cen­tral court for cor­rup­tion and mis­con­duct cases ruled at a hear­ing yes­ter­day that crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions pre­sented in July should go ahead against King Power, the cash-rich com­pany owned and run by the Le­ices­ter chair­man, Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha, and his son Aiyawatt.

King Power is ac­cused of hav­ing cor­ruptly short-changed the Thai gov­ern­ment of 14bn baht (£327m), its agreed share from the com­pany’s lu­cra­tive duty-free monopoly at Bangkok’s Su­varn­ab­humi air­port.

The law­suit, filed by Charn­chai Is­sarase­narak, the for­mer deputy chair­man of a gov­ern­ment anti-cor­rup­tion sub­com­mit­tee, alleges King Power and one of its ex­ec­u­tives col­luded with air­port em­ploy­ees to pay the gov­ern­ment only a 3% slice of the duty-free rev­enues. The orig­i­nal 2006 grant to King Power of the fran­chise, at one of the world’s busier air­ports, re­quired 15% of the in­come to be paid to the gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to the charges.

King Power said in July that if the case was brought to trial it would be vig­or­ously de­fended. The judge has ac­cepted that it should pro­ceed against 14 Air­port of Thai­land of­fi­cials, three King Power com­pa­nies and one com­pany of­fi­cial. The chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of King Power In­ter­na­tional, also the group vice-chair­man, Som­bat Decha­panichkul, is the King Power ex­ec­u­tive charged per­son­ally. Vichai and Aiyawatt Sri­vad­dhanaprabha are not per­son­ally named as de­fen­dants.

In her rul­ing the judge said: “From the ex­am­i­na­tion of the law­suit the court sees the case is within the au­thor­ity of the cen­tral court for cor­rup­tion and mis­con­duct case, and the law­suit is in ac­cor­dance with … the pro­ce­dures for cor­rup­tion and malfea­sance case act.”

King Power is un­der­stood to have filed a li­bel law­suit against Charn­chai in Fe­bru­ary this year, claim­ing defama­tion in state­ments he made al­leg­ing cor­rup­tion be­fore his crim­i­nal pe­ti­tion against the com­pany reached the court. Charn­chai could not be reached for com­ment.

King Power bought Le­ices­ter City for a re­ported £39m when the club were in the Cham­pi­onship in 2010, then loaned them more than £100m to sign play­ers and bankroll wages and losses, an in­vest­ment that paid off spec­tac­u­larly when they sur­pris­ingly won the Premier League ti­tle 18 months ago.

Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha es­tab­lished King Power in 1989 with one small shop in Bangkok, then gained ac­cess to major wealth when his com­pany was granted the ex­clu­sive fran­chise for duty-free sales at Su­varn­ab­humi air­port. At the time the prime min­is­ter was Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, who was ousted in a mil­i­tary coup soon af­ter­wards and fled the coun­try. Thaksin bought Manch­ester City in 2007 then sold them af­ter a year to Sheikh Man­sour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi rul­ing fam­ily. In Thai­land the mil­i­tary, Thaksin’s bit­ter ri­val, re­main in charge.

The pros­e­cu­tion and de­fence in the crim­i­nal case will now sub­mit fur­ther ev­i­dence and lists of wit­nesses to be heard, with sug­ges­tions the case may come to trial in March. In the orig­i­nal law­suit, Charn­chai listed the cur­rent prime min­is­ter of Thai­land, Gen­eral Prayuth Chan-ocha, as the sec­ond wit­ness.

King Power re­sponded to the court’s de­ci­sion with a state­ment from Aiyawatt Sri­vad­dhanaprabha as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the com­pany and Le­ices­ter City vicechair­man: “The al­le­ga­tions in ques­tion have yet to be ac­cepted by the court and are cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied. King Power has al­ways fol­lowed and been ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to the high­est stan­dards in proper and eth­i­cal busi­ness prac­tice. We are proud of our com­pany’s good name and hon­est rep­u­ta­tion and will fight rig­or­ously any at­tempts to dis­credit them.”

It is not clear whether the case would have any im­pact on Le­ices­ter City if it pro­ceeds and is proven. Premier League rules pro­hibit peo­ple from own­ing more than 30% or be­ing a di­rec­tor of a club if they have been con­victed of a crim­i­nal of­fence of dis­hon­esty, but there is no prece­dent for com­pa­nies in­volved in club own­er­ship, rather than in­di­vid­u­als, be­ing charged.

Le­ices­ter’s Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha, left, and his son Aiyawatt stand ac­cused in Thai­land Plumb Im­ages via Getty

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